Presbyteries and pastoral charges will be requested to respond to several remits within the next twelve months.
The last time pastoral charges were involved with remits was with christian initiation 1983/88, so remit is probably an unfamiliar term to most people within the church.
The United Church inherited its structure from the Congregational, Methodist, and Presbyterian Churches, with "The United Church of Canada Act" being letters patent defining our origins, basis of union, and trusts of model deed for property originally vested in the denomination and all new church property [the property of former Congregational and Presbyterian Churches is owned by the congregation]. The basis of union defines matters of doctrine, worship, discipline and government as conditions of the union entered by the negotiating churches.
The term "basis of union" and much of our legal language come from previous Methodist unions.
The term "remit" and much of the provisions for change come from the Presbyterian Church, which required "any action contemplating a change in the law of the Church must be dealt with according to the provisions of the Barrier Act", which act required "no prepared law or rule relative to matters of doctrine, discipline, government or worship, shall become a permanent enactment until the same has been submitted to presbyteries for consideration". The term remit was defined as "when Assembly sends a matter to presbyteries under the Barrier Act, the matter sent down to presbytery is called a remit".
The term "freedom of worship" and autonomy of the pastoral charge come from the Congregational Church.
The United Church of Canada Act article 28(b) permitted:
"the United Church to legislate in all matters concerning its doctrine, worship, discipline and government, including therein the right and power from time to time to frame, adopt, alter, change, add to or modify its laws, subordinate standards and formulas and to determine and declare the same or any of them, but subject to the conditions and safeguards in that behalf contained in the Basis of Union".
The "safeguards" which are not permitted to be altered [but have been] include:
-"that before any rule or law relative to these matters can become a permanent law, it must receive the approval of a majority of the Presbyteries, and, if advisable, pastoral charges also"
-"that no terms of admission to full membership shall be prescribed other than those laid down in the New Testament"
-"that the freedom of worship at present enjoyed in the negotiating Churches shall not be interfered with in the United Church"
and that legislation respecting property is:
-"subject to the limitations elsewhere provided in the Basis of Union, and subject also to the approval of the Conference in which the property is situated".
The heritage of the negotiating churches is evident.
The United Church of Canada Act article 18(h) permitted the church "to make such by-laws, rules or regulations as it may deem expedient for the exercise of any powers conferred by this Act". The bylaws, policy, official statements, and other motions passed by General Council are specific interpretations with the requirement only that these be subject to the conditions and safeguards of the basis of union. The expression "in essential agreement" has wrongly been used in reference to official statements of the church as the Manual uses the term only with ministry personnel, and nowhere permits its courts to deviate from matters of doctrine, worship, discipline or government as found in the basis of union without remit. The General Council uses remit to determine if presbyteries and pastoral charges approve of changes to doctrine, worship, membership, and government [note the safeguards changed the wording] where legislation would otherwise be ultra vires.
The basis of union is the authority by which the United Church functions.
The process of remit makes fundamental changes to the basis of union, requiring the implications to be carefully considered by presbyteries and pastoral charges. As pastoral charges vote only on two remits, and presbyteries vote on seven remits, it is imperative that presbytery representatives know what church members think.
The remits are [page references are from the Record of Proceedings 2000, with remit as initial page(s)]:
|remit #1||[presbyteries - to be issued in September] permits General Council in exceptional circumstances to reschedule to either a two or four year meeting if the agenda requires p. 207|
|remit #2||[presbyteries - to be issued in September] replaces petitions, memorials, and resolutions with proposals, a non-concurring court does not have to transmit with the effect of both simplifying things and blocking a proposal reaching the court which has to deal with it pp. 161-162, 483-485|
|remit #3||[presbyteries - to be issued in September] moves ordination vows from the basis of union to the bylaws to facilitate alternative wording, permitting General Council to change the ordination vows like any other bylaw without consulting presbyteries or pastoral charges pp.137-138, 1094-1097|
|remit #4||[presbyteries - to be issued in September] changes the mandate of the placement process to permit transfer and settlement to meet simultaneously, and to include all presbytery accountable ministries in the initial placement of candidates; simplifies process and increases options for settlement, but the remit does not include the explicit wording changes to the basis of union permitting the constitutional right of the pastoral charge to "appoint no more than two persons ...to represent it before the Settlement Committee regarding a request for settlement" to be displaced, and the inclusion of all presbytery accountable ministries may result in fewer persons being available for settlement to pastoral charges pp. 119; 106-108, 119-122, 640-653|
|remit #5||[presbyteries - to be issued in January] changes to how the church does ministry with increasingly fewer ministry personnel pp. 207-208; 67, 85-89, 91-94, 176-177, 182-183, 185-188, 207-208, 573-637, 1172-1177|
|remit #6||[presbyteries and pastoral charges - to be issued in January] redefines membership by removing the word "full"; with possible change to the "safeguards" [above], and possible future implications if referred remit/resolutions are reconsidered at another time pp. 69, 175; 69-73, 175-176, 680-696|
|remit #7||[presbyteries and pastoral charges - to be issued in January] replaces presbyteries and conferences with regional councils; while considered for more than twenty years the remit does not include the explicit wording changes to the basis of union and to The United Church of Canada Act permitting constitutional rights to be displaced, also possible future implications if report recommendations re pastoral relations, discipline of ministry personnel, funding basis for general council, remit process, and membership of the executive of general council are considered pp. 203; 195-196, 201-206, 213-293|
A presbytery or pastoral charge can only vote for or against remit without qualification. If the remits authorize change without the explicit wording of the changes to the basis of union, both presbyteries and pastoral charges would be advised to make inquiry as to the specific changes which will be made, as previously the former article 9.4 "a minister by her or her own action and a Pastoral Charge through its constitutional representatives may ... seek a change of pastoral relation ..." was removed editorially [rop 1990 pp. 390, 404, 412] on the basis of the previous remit #3 which gave no such authority.
As expressed recently at one conference, 'the issue before the church right now is the question of trust'. Without the explicit wording most of the remits are asking the same question.
The church struggles to faithfully communicate a timeless gospel in changing times. The church needs your prayer, and right now it needs your consideration of questions fundamental to much of what this church will be in the future.